21 Jul 2023
  • Daria Dovzhenko | Communications Specialist, IOM Ukraine

Global media headline-grabbing manifestations, educational and cultural events, organizing volunteer centres and helping refugees from Ukraine are just some of the activities of the Ukrainian diaspora since the start of the full-scale war. Among other things, the diaspora has become a powerful tool for the country's economic recovery. “The diaspora is a bridge between Ukraine and the world,” says Zoya Stankovska, a Ukrainian who has been living in Milan for eight years. 

“Every Ukrainian living far from home becomes a bicultural individual, and we should use these advantages. My dream is for my homeland to become a place where people want to return, and for each of us to proudly declare where we come from.”

Zoya was born and raised in Chernivtsi, a city in South-Western Ukraine, near the Romanian border. She built a career as a lawyer and married happily in Italy. But her dolce vita ended in February 2022, when the full-scale war began. At that moment she felt a deep connection with her homeland and immediately started creating plans to help, gathering active young people from the Ukrainian community in Milan. They became famous for their daily anti-war demonstrations near the Duomo Cathedral, Milan’s iconic cathedral, steeped in historical events. These manifestations were even mentioned in the European Parliament. 

Manifestation of Ukrainian diaspora in Milan. Photo: Liudmyla Podobna

With the support of the Consulate General of Ukraine in Milan and the city administration, Zoya set up a volunteer centre, website, and call centre to coordinate volunteer efforts and help refugees arriving in Milan adapt to their new environment. In March 2023, Zoya and her friend, officially registered  UaMi association as an NGO. 

"History is written every day. If you don't take action, someone else will do it for you. That's why I believe it's better to do small steps every day, so that we don't regret in the future." Zoya was well aware that the diaspora should provide more economic support for Ukraine as well. She took the initiative to invite Ukrainian businesses to the world-famous Artigiano in Fiera exhibition which serves as a "window to the world" for the people of Milan.  

With the help of the city council, Zoya and her team created a Ukrainian corner at the event and selected the best Ukrainian brands to be represented at the trade fair. The participants included companies producing stylish glassware, eco-candles, accessories, ceramics, carpets and handmade Christmas decorations. Most of them continued to work during the war and have great potential for international growth. For example, the Ukrainian brand Tres Code, which brought together the best masters from all over Ukraine to create jewellery from natural materials, received an IOM grant and sells its products worldwide. 

Zoya took care of everything, from the corner's design to the presentation of the products. The handicrafts impressed the Italians and shattered the stereotypical European perception of modern Ukraine. 

Ukrainian artisanal businesses representated at a fair in Milan

Zoya is now planning to showcase Ukrainian products in a central shop in Milan. She is happy to share her knowledge and participated in a conference organized by IOM to exchange experiences among diaspora representatives. 

For almost a year and a half of full-scale war, Zoya has been looking for ways to draw attention to Ukraine and draw support for her country. She asks people to appreciate everyone's efforts, not to criticise, but to think together about how to make things even better. "Don't ask what the country can do for you. Ask what you can do for the country," she paraphrases John F. Kennedy. 

SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions